A Note Concerning Tona Scherchen

The composer Tona Scherchen, whom I wrote an article about towards the end of last year, with the idea of encouraging perhaps some additional interest in her works which might lead, conceivably, to their actual performance, has apprised me in a personal communication that she has taken her leave of the musical life – pour moi c’est devenu du passé.

From my point of view, and, more pertinently, that of the potential audience for these works, this decision is, to be sure, a regrettable fact, but she, living for many years in France (now in the vicinity of Nice) and having been closely connected for a long time with the classical-⁠music division at Radio France, has her reasons for leaving music behind her, some of which she has conveyed to me, authorising their disclosure here.

It appears the matter at issue is something other than mere neglect, for, as she summarises the ill-⁠treatment she has received, la profession de «la musique française» m’a jeté à la poubelle comme on le ferait d’un chien galeux. Though there exist numerous recordings of her works, of which many were produced under the auspices of Radio France, with few exceptions these the latter has chosen to consign directly to the archive, in effect preventing them from being transmitted at all, even by other stations, and thus, as a consequence of what sounds as though it were a concerted campaign undertaken against her, in the absence of the royalties that otherwise would have been paid, the composer has had to endure significant financial hardship.

As Scherchen herself puts the case, bien qu’ayant une bonne cinquante d’œuvres déclarées et protégées SACEM – i.e., they were duly registered with the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique – dont une bonne partie fut à l’origine des productions de Radio France, en France on n’a plus jamais diffusé ne soit-⁠ce qu’une seule de mes œuvres, je ne reçois plus un centime de droit d’auteur de la France depuis plusieurs années et voilà pourquoi à la fin ne me restait plus qu’à être dégoutée de la musique pour en avoir littéralement crevé de faim.

All this is disquieting indeed.

While hers is a cautionary tale which gives food for thought about the great power that a single institution such as Radio France may exert on a country’s musical life, I do not mean to hammer on any moral to the story, but should like merely to commend her works – for which scores have been published by, inter alia, Universal Edition – to musicians in search of pieces to practice and to perform. And then, who knows, perhaps I will be able to augment the playlist of her works, after all.